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Essay-Writing Confidence

Posted April. 07, 2007 07:54,   


At 8.00 a.m. on Friday no one was seen on the playground of Mapo High School in Seoul. Around this time, you could find some students late for school running across the playground in other schools. But Mapo High School students have already started the morning with their so-called “Ten-Minute Reading” class. Freshmen and juniors read books recommended monthly by the school for ten minutes from 7:50 a.m. and write short essays after reading them.

“After reading the books, students talked about various topics other than entertainers and Internet-related things,” said Yoon Ik-hee, 51, a teacher in charge of humanities and social studies education.

You sometimes see all elementary and middle school students reading books together at school, but you seldom find all the students at a high school reading books together at the same time.

Kim Tae-mun, 61, the principal of Mapo High School, thought writing essays would become important in 2004 when the outline of university plans to select students for 2008 became clear. So he decided to teach essay writing at his school.

In 2005, he began a comprehensive essay education program after regular school classes, creating a team of teachers who teach Korean, mathematics, social studies and science. He divided the work and assigned eight teachers to teach students, three to develop study materials, and three to proofread student works.

Kim Pyeong-won, 34, who leads the teaching team, said, “Fifty-five out of seventy teachers are ambitious enough to take essay-writing courses. I would stay up at night for a week for the first two-hour lecture.”

The school has a reputation for excellence over private essay cram schools, especially regarding its science essays. The “Aura Science Essay,” a study guide written by Mapo High School teachers, is now sold in bookstores nationwide.

On Thursday in a science essay class, a heated debate was sparked over an article titled, “Visit and find science in traditional culture: three wisdoms behind the walls of Suwon Hwaseong Fortress” in Science Dong-A, a leading science magazine in Korea.

Yoon Ik-hee, 29, who teaches science essay writing, taught students to write about how to build a fortress with creativity after reorganizing the article, pictures and graphs. Gong Sun-haeng, 18, a senior at the school, said, “It’s fun to learn about writing essays because teachers develop their own study materials using science magazines and teaching tools.”

Thanks in part to the essay program that has been continued for the past two years, some students have been admitted to universities they would not have been able to apply to with their college entrance exam scores alone.

The essay lectures provided by this school are unique in that each week, one theme is covered in four different aspects.

For example, this week’s theme is Lee Sun-shin, a national naval hero in Korea. Students are asked to analyze a text (Korean) on Monday, learn the buoyancy of the Turtle Ship developed by the admiral (science) on Tuesday, and study the tactics of the armed forces of the Joseon Dynasty (social studies) on Wednesday, are taught about the angles and geometry of troop formations and the distance to projectiles on Thursday, and are busy writing essays and proofreading on Friday.

Last year, the school gathered 60 junior and senior students with a teaching degree of Seoul National University (SNU) and Inha University and let them teach subjects involving arguments and how to speak by giving mock essay tests and mock interviews. The essay materials were developed by teachers with essay experts from other institutions such as SNU, the Korea Institute of Curriculum and Evaluation, and Education Broadcasting System.

Lee Gwang-ok, 47, a parent of a sophomore at Mapo High School, said, “I was worried about the comprehensive essays when universities announced the plan, but I now deeply trust the school, as teachers teach essays well. You have to pay hundreds of thousands of won for an essay class at a private cram school, but a school essay program is almost free.”